Bird-brained case? Feds go after California tree trimmer for hurting herons

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In what’s being described as a bird-brained prosecution, federal authorities are going after a California tree trimmer for accidentally injuring five birds while trying to remove limbs from a tree earlier this month.

Ernesto Pulido was hired by the U.S. Postal Service to cut back the trees, specifically to prevent a group of herons from sitting and defecating on the mail trucks parked below.

But in the course of pruning the trees, his crew cut down limbs where the black-crowned night herons – one of 1,026 species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act -- were nesting. Several baby birds fell and were injured.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reportedly is seeking he pay a $1,500 fine for a misdemeanor violation. The infraction can carry a penalty of up to $15,000 and six months in jail.

A spokesman at the hospital where the birds are being treated says the herons, which are not endangered, suffered “scrapes and bruises and one had a fractured beak, but that they are expected to recover and be released into the wild.”

Pulido, according to local reports, also is already paying for the birds' medical expenses.

So why, then, are the feds going after Pulido?

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, calls it “nothing short of bureaucratic bullying.”

Issa, R-Calif., sent a letter to the head of the federal wildlife agency earlier this week questioning the decision to go after Pulido, noting that charges are expected next week.

In his May 28 letter, he also questioned why no action had been taken against the Postal Service.

According to the letter, made available to, Issa said he’s “concerned” that Pulido is “being subjected to an unfair and unnecessary prosecution because FWS is responding to public pressure to act but does not want to seek redress from a fellow federal agency.”

While the agency is going after this individual tree trimmer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own estimates show wind turbines cause 33,000 bird deaths per year. Issa complained that last December, FWS began issuing 30-year permits to wind energy developers that would “allow for the unintentional killing or taking of Bald Eagles or taking of Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, birds protected not only by the MBTA but also by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”

The MBTA was created in 1918 to protect migratory birds. The law makes it illegal for anyone to take, hunt, kill, sell, or barter any migratory bird, or the parts -- such as nests or eggs.

The allegedly lopsided application of the law under the Obama administration is nothing new. While wind energy developers get a pass, in North Dakota, seven oil and gas companies were hauled into federal court for killing 28 migratory birds in 2011.

Calls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the U.S. Postal Service for comment were not returned.

After the initial incident, Pulido expressed regret for the injuries to the birds. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he said he "screwed up." Though neighbors apparently tried to stop his crew from cutting through the trees, Pulido called himself an animal lover and reportedly said he didn't initially think birds were being hurt.